The Search for Signs of
Intelligent Life in the Universe
For intelligent life on a Broadway stage, search no further than the Booth Theater. Lily Tomlin is back with her fifteen-year-old one-woman tour de force, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Lily and her alter egos are all on hand: Trudy thezanily wise bag lady, teenager Agnus Angst, human potential devotee Chrissy, Lud and Marie from Indiana and Brandy and Tina who live "the life"
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
While anyone who saw her in 1985 is fifteen years older, the ever agile Lily, though numerically sixty-one, seems not to have aged a minute. In fact, my twenty-something aerobics teacher would be hard put to keep up with Chrissy's side splittingly funny non-stop monologue ("All my life I wanted to be somebody, but I see now that I should have been more specific") during an amazingly au courant Los Angeles health club class.
The script by Tomlin's longtime collaborator Jane Wagner retains its wit and wisdom. Lily's list of "I worry" abouts still include such gems as "If olive oil comes from olives and peanut oil from peanuts, where does baby oil come from?" Trudy's aphorisms continue to fly like stars through the universe she explores. To cite just a few samples: "Infinity could just be time on an ego trip" . . ."Reality is nothing but a collective hunch". . . "if we had survival of the wittiest [instead of the fittest] then the people who didn't survive could have died laughing". . ."I think we developed language because of our deep down need to complain".
That's why it's probably curmudgeonly to wish this were brand-new Search or one with more updates. Besides, seeing Lily Tomlin take over that stage is truly awesome. Wearing just a simple black pants outfit and sneakers she bowls you over with her contagiously crinkly smile, deceptively effortless, hair-trigger character switches.
Ms. Tomlin's mastery of multiple roles crosses gender. At times she even plays two characters
in a single scene -- like the two hilarious Manhattan hookers, Brandy and Tina. Ms. Wagner, who is the show's director as well as writer, steers all twelve characters along a carefully constructed path. What we get is not merely a one-person standup performance. but a complete play. Take the show's running joke -- "This is soup" [ the real stuff in the can] . . . "this is art" [the famous Andy Warhol soup image]. -- it's not just a gag that's repeated because it's funny, but serves as a connecting thread that connects the pieces of a rich and colorful patchwork portrait of Americans seeking to make sense of modern life's mysteries.
Klara Zieglerova's abstract set and Ken Billington's lighting abet Ms. Tomlin in deflecting the sense of a single performer on a large stage. At almost two and a half hours, the show could use a blue pencil. That said, Lily's opening worry routine -- "I worry about playing to a full house. . .and leaving you empty" -- is completely unfounded! She and her twelve alter egos, and especially the cliche transcendent bag lady philosopher, Trudy, will leave you fully satisfied.
|THE SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF
INTELLIGENT LIFE ON THE UNIVERSE
Written and Directed by Jane Wagner
Starring Lily Tomlin
Set Design: Klara Zieglerova
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Sound Design: Tom Clark & Mark Bennett
2 hours and 25 minutes, including intermission
Booth, 222 W. 45th St, (Broadway/8th Av), 239 - 6200
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm --
$50 - $65
11/11//2000-5/20/01; opened 11/16/2000
Extended to March 11
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
based on 11/21 performance